Homeless Women's Personal Networks

Implications for Understanding Risk Behavior

Published In: Human Organization v. 68, no. 2, Summer 2009, p. 129-140

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2008

by Joan S. Tucker, David P. Kennedy, Gery W. Ryan, Suzanne L. Wenzel, Daniela Golinelli, James Zazzali

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The goal of this exploratory study was to examine the composition of homeless women's personal networks in order to better understand the social context of risk behavior in this vulnerable population. Twenty-eight homeless women residing in temporary shelters in Los Angeles County provided detailed information about their extended personal networks. Women named 25 people with whom they had contact during the past year, and then were asked a series of questions about each one of these named network members. Results indicate that the personal networks of homeless women are larger and more diverse than suggested by previous research. About one-third of women's relationships were with high-risk individuals (i.e., people perceived to drink heavily, use drugs, or engage in risky sex). However, most women also reported having relationships that could be characterized as both low risk (e.g., involving individuals perceived as not drinking heavily, using drugs, or engaging in risky sex) and high quality (e.g., long-term, emotionally close, or supportive), although these relationships tended to be rather tenuous. Our results suggest a need to assist homeless women in strengthening these existing low-risk/high-quality relationships, and extending the diversity of their networks, in order to increase women's exposure to positive role models and access to tangible support and other needed resources.

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